U-M researchers recently published a paper examining the experiences of Black engineering undergraduates participating in informal mentoring programs within their disciplines. Among the authors were U-M Biomedical Engineering and U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) recently graduated undergraduates Anu Tuladhar and Carin Queener, respectively. This work was guided by U-M IOE Assistant Professor Joi Mondisa and Chinedum Okwudire, an associate professor in U-M Mechanical Engineering.
Research findings from the study recommend that universities provide funding and locations for informal mentoring, community programs and places where minoritized students and faculty can connect based on their specific disciplines and other shared identities.
The study was prompted by past research which showed the potential for minoritized students to face hostile campus climates.
“This is especially true at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), where many of their peers and professors do not share similar identity aspects with them,” explained the authors. “Black students may experience racial discrimination, microaggressions, and systemic and institutional racism, contributing to feelings of isolation and a lack of a sense of belonging.”
“The experiences of Black students from both IOE and the Department of Mechanical Engineering were examined through two student-faculty mentoring programs called BIndx and BMechx, led by two Black professors in IOE and Mechanical Engineering, respectively,” said Mondisa.
The research was conducted as a joint study between the BIndx (pronounced BIND-ex) and BMechx (pronounced BEE-mex) mentoring groups. BIndx is an abbreviation for Black industrial and operations engineers, and is informally advised by Mondisa. BMechx is an abbreviation for Black mechanical engineers, and is informally advised by Okwudire. The goal of both programs is to provide community and support to Black engineering students in IOE and Mechanical Engineering, respectively.
To conduct the research, participants were surveyed and interviewed about their experiences within their mentoring programs, specifically how Black students felt that their race impacted their undergraduate experience.
This information was analyzed with statistical methods and thematic analysis to draw conclusions on both the current experiences of Black students and how their experiences can be improved.
“Using surveys and interviews, we found that informal community spaces and peer mentoring opportunities were critical in building a sense of connectedness and resiliency among participants, particularly with the representation of minoritized identities of both students and faculty.”
This recommendation adds further weight to previous research that details the effectiveness of similar mentoring programs implemented at other universities.
Joi Mondisa has been a professor in U-M IOE since 2016, after ten years of industry work across various applications, including manufacturing, operations, technical sales and publishing. In addition to her professorship and her role as an informal advisor for BIndx, she is also the Department lead for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in U-M IOE. Her primary research interests include mentoring approaches, relationships and intervention programs, as well as the designing and assessment of learning experiences and outcomes.
Chinedum Okwudire is an associate professor of U-M Mechanical Engineering, as well as the director of Smart and Sustainable Automation Research Lab and the informal advisor to BMechx. His primary research interests lie within automation, specifically in relation to manufacturing and vehicles.